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October 2007
Volume 2, Number 10

Going Green at GCC

Karen P. Chynoweth

Greenfield Community College (GCC) is an institution dedicated to its home community. That dedication means the faculty and staff care not only about the students who attend the school, but the economic, social, cultural, and environmental state of Franklin County and the people who call the greater Pioneer Valley home. With that in mind, the faculty and staff at GCC have increased their efforts over the past five years to become good examples for others and good stewards of the earth by increasing the college’s recycling efforts and adopting other environmentally friendly policies. Recently, the college also launched an ambitious program to educate the workforce, students, and local high school teachers in the theories and practices of green technology, with the hopes of creating jobs people can feel good about and providing services to people in the community who want to adopt green technologies for their homes and businesses.

GCC is located in the beautiful and historic Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, between the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains and the fertile farmland of the Connecticut River watershed. It’s an area with a rich history of people who have a strong connection to the land and a vibrant culture of progressive thought and social conscience. More than 3,000 students enroll at GCC each fall and the education they receive there affects the entire region as they move on to become civic leaders, business owners, or teachers or to follow other career paths.

The green curriculum at GCC was born from a grant the college received about four years ago from Northeast Utilities. Teresa Jones, an adjunct instructor and the program coordinator for the renewable energy education program, used the grant money to develop and teach a course called, “Sustainable Energy: Theory and Practices,” the first course of its kind offered by the college. This popular course allows students to meet one of their lab science core curriculum requirements and has served the regular student population well. Last fall, however, Teresa Jones and Brian Adams, professor of environmental studies and natural resources, attended a conference on renewable energy workforce education and realized that the need for training would require a much more comprehensive program at GCC. The first batch of sustainability courses at GCC was launched last spring. They have been offered both as noncredit and credit courses and are meant to provide community members and students with the skills to install and maintain the new green technology that can help cut back on our carbon emissions. There is a growing demand for this technology, but the supply of people who know how it works has not caught up with that demand.

“One of the exciting things I’ve seen with the global warming debate is that there has been a complete change in the debate from ‘Is it happening?’ to ‘What can we do about it.’” Adams said. “One of the major ways we can be responsible in the community is to train the workforce.” Courses that have been taught include “Introduction to Photovoltaic (PV) Technology” (panels that convert solar energy into electricity), “Photovoltaic Installation,” “Solar Domestic Hot Water,” “Passive Solar Technology,” and “Energy Conservation and Efficiency.”

This summer, the college received a $372,000 grant from the Massachusetts Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund for a Sustainable Practices in Construction (SPC) project. The grant teamed GCC with local businesses to fund tuition and stipends for employees at local businesses to take renewable energy courses. Resources from the SPC project grant have supported the development of a comprehensive sustainable energy program, called Renewable Energy Workforce Education (RENEWED) at GCC. It will eventually include a certificate program and, in the next three years or so, a two-year associate degree program focusing on this technology.

Nancy Bair, director of the college’s Workforce Development in the Community Education department, is the grant’s project manager. Bair is excited about the SPC grant for several reasons. She thinks that Franklin County and western Massachusetts in general will be leaders in the sustainable energy industry because of the history of the area and the concentration of talent already here. In addition, she said, “GCC is a key academic, economic, and cultural contributor in our region, setting high national and state standards for graduating competent employees into our workforce and transferring well-prepared students to other colleges and universities. The SPC project will help expand the college’s new program in the timely manner required by the new energy demands in our country and the world. We will be providing employers with highly qualified employees that will strengthen our local economy, and we will be taking leadership in helping to solve a serious worldwide problem.”

The Sustainable Practices in Construction project is being funded through the Commonwealth Corporation of Massachusetts, a quasipublic agency of the state responsible for workforce development and training. According to Bair, the program has been extremely popular so far. More than 30 businesses and organizations are partnering with GCC on this project and so many employees are taking courses that new sections must be added. “Everything that we hear from the employers and the people taking the classes is just so enthusiastic,” Bair commented. “It’s so much fun to be part of an initiative that is so welcomed and positive and inspiring.”

GCC recently received a $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to train local high school teachers how to go green in their classes. The grant will fund stipends and materials costs for teachers from four local schools to take courses at GCC that teach renewable energy technology techniques and theories and then take that new curriculum to their own courses. The goal of the project is to create a cohesive renewable energy curriculum that spans from high school to college. Dale MacLeod, grants specialist at GCC, noted that the teachers who are taking courses at GCC will then create equivalent credit courses at their schools. Two to four teachers from each pilot high school will be taking courses at GCC. The faculty at GCC will continue to work with the teachers after they have taken the course to help them develop their own courses and create articulation agreements between the college and the schools. The grant also provides money for the high school teachers to go as a team to a major renewable energy workforce conference held annually at Hudson Valley Community College. Another 20 middle and high school teachers from schools in the GCC service area will be able to attend a week-long workshop series in June 2008 covering various renewable energy and sustainability topics, which may be incorporated into their courses. They can use this information to teach their students about the emerging education pathways and employment opportunities in this industry.

President Robert Pura considers this project to be a great fit for the college, the schools, and the community, with its history of commitment to sustainable energy, the environment, manufacturing, and academics. “This is just smart for our community, and GCC is pleased to be an active partner in this effort,” Pura said. Teresa Jones believes this is one of the best ways the college can fulfill its commitment to serve the community. “We are creating workforce opportunities, helping people fulfill their dreams, and contributing to the greater sustainability of Franklin County and the planet,” she said. The high school teachers will be taking courses over the next year and will begin teaching their own classes as early as next spring. “We are drawing high school students in and getting them in ahead of the game,” Jones said. “They can get here and have five or six credits already.” According to Brian Adams, the green curriculum does not stop in the science department. Aside from techniques and theories, the hope is to expand environmental awareness into other departments so students are reading about environmental issues in English and history class or studying the financial opportunities of caring for the environment in economics classes. “We are looking at how we can incorporate sustainability issues into those classes,” Adams said.

In addition to the green curriculum, GCC has taken many steps to create a greener campus. Last spring, President Pura signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which acknowledges higher education’s role in influencing society’s take on the environment and encourages schools to become responsible stewards of the earth. More than 17 million future architects, engineers, attorneys, business leaders, scientists, journalists, advocates, and activists—in other words students—are currently attending the more than 4,000 higher learning institutions in the United States, and that means colleges are in the unique position to influence the future priorities of this country. By signing the pact, GCC agrees to make an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions at the college and to formulate a plan to reduce them. Adams is the liaison for the President’s Climate Commitment. “We will provide leadership on campus and community by modeling ways to eliminate global warming emissions,” Adams said.

For now, the college is trying to get an idea of what kind of carbon footprint it has. Adams stated that the majority of the college’s greenhouse emissions come from its many commuters. All the faculty, staff, and students have to get to the college from their homes somehow, and for many of them that means using a fossil fuel-driven vehicle. The college is considering ways to reduce the number of cars used by encouraging students and faculty to carpool or use public transportation. Adams notes that the college also plans to change its purchasing policies, buying recycled products when available or buying local to reduce the energy spent on transporting goods. “As a school, we are really looking at the details of how we do business, from toilet paper to computers to copy machines to appliances. We also want to look at how we heat our buildings in terms of energy efficiency and conservation,” Adams stated. Already, the campus has installed a 2 kilowatt photovoltaic array and plans to add another one soon. It produces about 240 kilowatt hours of electricity in a month, which is almost half the usage of an average household. The college also plans to build a greenhouse heated through passive solar energy and geothermal energy.

Montserrat Archbald is the staff assistant to the Peer Tutoring Program at GCC and the chair of the Green Campus Committee, which formed about five years ago with a project to expand the recycling program in the cafeteria to the rest of campus. “We wanted to give students a chance to recycle wherever they were,” she said. In addition, the committee has worked to install vending misers on the vending machines, which make them run more efficiently. The lighting on the machines turns off until a motion sensor is triggered and the refrigeration system only kicks on long enough to keep sodas cool. The committee has expanded the ink cartridge recycling program so that all the college’s ink jet cartridges are recycled, and it has started a drive to replace incandescent office lamps with the more energy efficient and cost effective compact fluorescents (CFLs). Archbald said the students, faculty, and staff are supportive of the green efforts, even when it sometimes makes things more expensive or difficult.

“I think the motivation is there and the enthusiasm and the support,” Archbald commented. “It seems like every time we step up and change something, everyone is happy. People want to do the right thing and want to be more green but often don’t have the avenue for it.” By creating a green campus, a green curriculum, and a student body with a green conscience, GCC is hoping to have a positive environmental impact that spreads well beyond the campus borders and beyond the boundaries of western Massachusetts. It’s the essence of thinking globally and acting locally.

Karen P. Chynoweth is a writer for Greenfield Community College.

Photographs courtesy of Greenfield Community College.

Cynthia Wilson, Editor